Concert review: Yoon Chung at 1901 Arts Club

The delightful 1901 Arts Club, tucked away down a side street close to Waterloo Station, seems just about ideal for intimate chamber recitals, and the perfect retreat on a cold November evening to enjoy a superior concert of music by Brahms and Schubert played by Korean/British pianist Yoong Chung.

The concert marked the launch of Yoon’s first CD of late piano works by Schubert, the Sonata in C minor D958 and the Drei Klavierstücke D946, which formed the main part of the programme, but the evening commenced with Brahms’ Albumblatt (“album leaf”), a short work which was only discovered in 2011. Sensitively played, a simple singing melody over a rippling bass line, it was an appropriate opening piece for an evening of music written for the salon, to be played amongst friends.

Schubert’s Drei Klavierstücke (literally “piano pieces” – the title was given by Brahms on the publication of these pieces) are sometimes also termed “impromptus”, and each expresses perfectly the sense of the word: spontaneous and extempore. Composed during 1828, that annus mirabilis of output for Schubert and only a few months before his death, they are rich in contrasts, colours and moods, and Yoon was alert to the shifting characters and improvisatory nature of these pieces. His opening of the second Klavierstück was particularly tender and lyrical, its tempo relaxed and elegant, and a reminder that Schubert was a composer of songs. Throughout, tasteful pedalling, limpid sound, clarity of expression, precise articulation, and convincing use of tempo rubato, all underpinned by solid technique and musical understanding, made for an extremely satisfying performance.

The Sonata in C minor, D958, is the most portentous of Schubert’s last three piano sonatas and also the most overtly “Beethovenian”, not least in its use of Beethoven’s “favourite” key, C minor, and the darkly dramatic opening statements of the first movement. Once again, we were treated a performance of great transparency, profound expression and sensitivity to Schubert’s writing, and while some purists may not approve of Yoon’s use of rubato here, as in the earlier pieces, I found his account wholly convincing and refreshingly imaginative. This was not surface artifice but a performance founded on clear purpose and musicality. It was the best Schubert I have heard all year.

After a rollicking Rachmninov encore, we retired to the elegant upstairs bar and sitting room at the 1901 for prosecco and convivial conversation, much in the manner of Schubert and his friends in the 1820s. It was a pleasure to meet Yoon, and two of his former teachers.

The same expression, clarity and precision is evident on his CD, all tastefully packaged with a minimalist monochrome design and attractive slipcase. For further information about the CD, please visit Yoon’s website

My Meet the Artist interview with Yoon Chung

1901 Arts Club